Posted by: facetothewind | June 4, 2017

Writing Retreat

January Handl

I’ve been housesitting for my friend Jean in San Rafael, California. Her quiet, lagoon-side home is the perfect place to hole myself up with a good friend of mine, January Handl, to write. January is one of the most gifted poets I know. Here’s one of her gems.

Beloved,
we all get weary,
we all feel full to the brim
and overflowing chaos
seeps sanity away through
grasping fingers.
Or empty and hollow from
the carving life’s losses
does into our souls,
chilled by betrayals
or abandonments,
the longing to rest
to be held in soothing warmth
becomes a weight and an ache.

Beloved,
If words could offer comfort,
let’s begin right now,
spinning the silver threads
of our connections,
yarns that shimmer and fade
with each breath,
let’s weave the weft
of woundings
and healings,
the warp of
traumas and fears,
the wonders and joy,
into a soft soft soft quilt,
with patterns of sun colors
and relaxing familiar earth fragrances
of past looms,
snuggle up in my poem,
warm your heart by mine
and for a moment,
just be

Still the lightness of love
is ever sewn into any
blanket we fold together,
if my words could
rock your surrendering heart
in peace, I
would speak them into
the very substance of
the shelter we offer
each other.

— January Handl

Posted by: facetothewind | June 2, 2017

The Days of Wine and Doughnuts

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This is what a $29 entree looks like in Berkeley, California. It’s a little drumstick and thigh, 5 asparagus spears with a little dollop of sweet potato puree. I put a dime in for scale. I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much for so little. And I still haven’t. That tiny, albeit delicious entree was brought to me by my friend Jean’s generosity. And for that I thank her.

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The next day, I decided it was my time to treat her. So we went out for a sweet indulgence at Johnny’s Doughnuts in downtown San Rafael. Oops, that’s not Johnny’s Doughnuts, it’s Johnny Doughnuts — the apostrophe and s dropped for added retro-innocence-guy-in-Converse-All-Star cuteness. Johnny has admittedly extraordinary doughnuts. They have sweet potato doughnuts, lime poppyseed doughnuts, blueberry jam doughnuts, and doughnuts with vanilla sprinkles. Vanilla sprinkles? Since when do sprinkles come with any flavor other than sprinkly-flavored sprinkles? They even have vegan raised doughnuts. What is a vegan raised doughnut? One that is raised by vegans? Or vegan doughnuts that are raised instead of flat? Johhny has doughnuts you would mortgage your house for. I ordered 3.

I stepped up to the counter like Donald F. Trump ready to peel off some bills, smack ’em down on the counter, and treat my friend. The cash register beeped a few times and then the figure appeared on the display: $11. I lost my dignity.

“Are you kidding me, $11 for 3 doughnuts!? OMG, you’re joking. Is that a mistake or is that for real?” I snapped at the cashier making sure that everyone in the cafe could hear my indignation. People put down their books and looked up at me. “Where I come from, doughnuts are 40 cents,” I told him shaking my little white paper bag at him.

“Oh,” the cashier calmly replied without a hint of condescension, “where are you from?”

Feeling a little embarrassed for losing my shit in front of my generous and patient friend, I paid the $11 and stomped out. I lauded her in my mind for not rescuing me from this situation. And I re-calibrated myself — when in California, ask the price before buying anything. Always. Even doughnuts. Especially doughnuts.

Although I bitched about it for a few more minutes on the way to the car, the sound of my complaints became muffled by the doughnutty goodness of the maple glaze I was stuffing in my big mouth. It was damn good, I have to say. “I mean really, what about this is worth…” crumbs started shooting out my mouth. The maple wasn’t just maple flavor. The cake of the doughnut was thick and moist without being oily and full of air.

I was pacified…until we got to Walgreens drug store and had to feed a meter to park in their lot. What? A store that has a paid parking lot? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not kidding. You have to pay to park at Walgreens in San Rafael. I rolled my eyes so far up, I thought they might stay up there and I’d have to go have them surgically lowered. We skipped Walgreens and went to the local dollar store where the shelves were picked clean no doubt by bargain hunters who spent their nearly last dollar on a doughnut.

Onward home. We pull into Jean’s driveway and witness 2 Hispanic guys pull up in their beat up old pickup truck with a giant boulder sitting in the bed. One of the neighbors had ordered a 1,000 pound rock from a local landscaping company and these guys were delivering it. The truck strained and backed up over the curb and the guys hopped out to try and offload the behemoth boulder.

That soon-to-be garden ornament in their truck weighed more than my 7-foot grand piano. Seriously more…like 223 pounds more than the piano. Unlike my piano, however, the boulder could be rolled — sort of. It wasn’t really a sphere. It was more like a pyramid of a boulder and so the guys pushed and heaved on it. The beat up old truck was rocking and bouncing with each heave. Finally the rock made it to the tailgate and I winced as surely they would break the tailgate. They broke the tailgate. It bent in the middle like a piece of tin foil as the rock rolled off the truck and plunged to the ground with a thud that shook the pavement. USGS noted a seismic disturbance somewhere in the magnitude of 4.5 with the epicenter being just next door.

I watched from a safe distance as the 2 guys fretted and then laughed about destroying their truck’s tailgate. The bigger of the two jammed his hip on it and bent it back into shape. It would now close but not latch. I started feeling sorry for these guys. How on earth would they ever move that 1,000 pound boulder into place in the neighbor’s landscape? Well, I wasn’t going to stand around and watch. They didn’t need my pity. So I went inside and pushed the button to close the electric garage door.

I stopped for a moment. Bit my lip and thought a little about Trump and the wall and the abuse of immigrants in America. I turned right around and pushed the button again and opened the garage door. I ran over to the guys who were heaving and grunting trying to roll the pyramidal rock about 200 feet to its final resting place. No. Way. It was not going to move. With all their might, the boulder would rock a little, but it wouldn’t roll.

I asked in my best Español if they needed help but I didn’t wait for an answer and just started pushing, “Uno, dos, tres,” and we all heaved. It moved! I jumped out of the way with my sandaled feet as it toppled down to a flat side. We stood up and caught our breaths. I noticed them pointing to my vulnerable toes. If that rock were to roll on my feet, I would never walk again.

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Helping these guys was a chance to practice my Spanish for my upcoming trip to Mexico. I was thrilled to say “pinche” and “chinga” and put them together with pesado. “¡Ay, chingada,” I yelled at the boulder, looking at the guys for approval with my expletives. “¡Pinche pesado,” the bigger guy yelled and laughed. (I’ll let you look up the rest, but pesado means heavy.)

For a half hour we channeled the ancient Egyptians, heaving, panting, and yelling at the gneiss blob as we inched our way up the path and into place. The neighbor who ordered the rock stood by with pride and folded arms. We all felt a sense of accomplishment when we finally got it to the exact location in the landscape where it will delight all who pass by it for years.

My lower back had something to say about this, however. It was like, “Puta madre! What did you do to me? You’re 53 years old and you’re pushing a 1,000 pound boulder? ¿Qué me has hecho, pendejo? Couldn’t you have done a little warm up first?”

I went back to the house to down a few ibuprofen and strap on an ice pack. While I was on the floor stretching out my lower back, the doorbell rang. The neighbor appeared on the doorstep with 2 bottles of wine. “I didn’t know if you liked chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. So I brought you both.”

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In my materialistic curiosity to gauge the depth of his pockets and his gratitude, I used my phone to scan the barcodes on the wines. The 2 bottles added up to over $50! I’ve never had such expensive wine. The idea of washing down $11 of doughnuts with $50 of wine was intriguing in a way that one can only imagine in California.

Sometimes California giveth and sometimes it taketh away. I wonder if the guys got any wine or reimbursement for their broken truck.

Posted by: facetothewind | May 13, 2017

Goodbye for the Summer

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Haoyen and Waituck greeting Chuan at the airport in KL where they dropped him off a year ago. This time no tears.

It was the best of times, it was (NOT) the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. 

We left Malaysia. We got married. We returned to Tucson for the fair season. And it was the longest time in my life when living in Tucson didn’t suck. We sang with the symphony. We swam in the river. Chuan cooked. I ate. We drank. We cycled. We argued a little and loved a lot. Chuan became a permanent resident and taught Chinese and piano. I wrote a book on our epic love affair (coming soon). The owls gave birth and the owlets fledged.

Chuan has gone back to Malaysia to cut his mother’s hair. So I’m a bachelor for a month which means I have to learn how to cook again. I’ve hardly cooked a meal since Chuan arrived. Tucson hit the 100 degree mark and so the summer migration has begun. Onward to the cool and foggy Bay Area, then the California foothills for a wedding, then Mexico for 6 weeks to explore our American exit strategy options. Then on to Oregon for the solar eclipse. Then the wine country for a men’s retreat, back to San Francisco, and finally home in September. Home. Tucson, Arizona…a place that has gotten enormously better in the years since I left it (twice) and enormously better since Chuan moved in and spruced up my life. Life is sweet in what seems like a nation coming apart.

Here’s a really short video clip of the mostly uneventful spring…

Posted by: facetothewind | March 15, 2017

Winter Into Spring

Chuan opener

It was a glorious winter and spring in Tucson. Here’s the winter / spring photo montage with video…

Posted by: facetothewind | February 18, 2017

Our Love is Here to Stay

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It’s the end of a long, stressful, tedious, and expensive process — the pursuit of the coveted American Green Card…permanent residency in the United States. And last Wednesday, Chuan was granted his and a fast track to citizenship (if he wants it). We went to our immigration hearing with our attorney Claudia Arévalo (pictured above) not really knowing what to expect. After months of paperwork, forms, bank statements, tax returns, birth certificates, marriage certificates, affidavits of friendship, affidavits of financial responsibility, over $5,000 in attorney’s fees, filing fees, and medical exams…but the final decision rests with the immigration officer charged with the responsibility of granting or denying your application. And so it’s really luck of the draw who you get. If you get someone who is homophobic or having a bad day, you’re screwed. But it was our lucky day. We got Officer B (name withheld).

We sat in the lobby of the United States Customs and Border Control office nervously awaiting our appointment when the door opened and Chuan’s name was called by a woman in a cobalt blue satin blouse and a beige skirt. It was not an officer’s uniform with gun and taser as I had expected. Was she the officer we were assigned? Claudia was behind us as we walked to the door and whispered, “You’re lucky, she’s nice!” I felt some sense of dread lifting off my shoulders.

Officer B had lived in San Francisco and in the 10 minutes of previewing our case had seen that we were married in SF City Hall. She saw we were first time married, gay, no criminal records or violations of visas. She must have seen that I’m 53. All this added up to the unlikelihood that we were faking a marriage, which is the whole point of this interview…to prove that we are committing fraud and the burden of proof that we are legit is on us.

We dumped on her desk a pile of pictures of the past 3 years of our relationship, along with sworn statements from Simon, Angela and Jeff, and Jean who were either at our wedding or who hosted a wedding reception for us. Then we pulled out a ton of wedding cards, top of the pile being the handmade earth/bicycle wheel watercolor card made by Thom and Alex from the Farm.

It was all enough that Officer B said to us, “You got your green card the minute you walked in the door, but I have to go through with some formalities.” Oh wow. It happened. Officer B just made our lives enormously better. We finished the rest of the interview and she didn’t have to separate us and ask us things like what side of the bed we sleep on and does he have any distinctive moles or birthmarks…that sort of thing.

We walked out of the office back to the lobby within a half hour and flashed Trish, our housemate, the thumbs up. What a RELIEF! I no longer have to have my bank accounts scrutinized, we don’t have to have a million we-fies on the blog to prove our relationship. It’s over, done, finished. Glory hallelujah. Justice is, on rare occasions, done in America.

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Later on we had a party at the Tucson Racquet Club. I texted the guests in advance that we would announce the decision at the party in the color of our scarves. Green for “got the green card” or black. Then the guests started arriving up the stairs and immediately checking our scarves. Alex arrived with a single green balloon and a look of worry on her face as she rushed to us. I heard her mutter, “Are they wearing green? Oh thank God!” The look of fear turned to relief and she threw her arms around us. Practically all our neighbors and friends came. They’ve all grown fond of Chuan and perhaps not seeing me be lonely and miserable.

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We ordered drinks and the party grew to about 20. We made a small speech about what this meant to us and to thank all of our supporters (and you dear readers who couldn’t attend) for the help all along the way.

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It was truly a celebratory evening. Love prevailed. Chuan gets to stay in America. I get to keep my hubby by my side. Thanks goes to all the people in this country who voted and ultimately installed a reasonable Supreme Court that ruled in favor of marriage equality. Thank you to all who encouraged, loved, wrote checks, and helped us get through this trying time.

Now we can just be normal Americans…should we choose such a fate. Yikes.

Posted by: facetothewind | December 26, 2016

The Christmas Poo

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Nothing says Christmas like nausea, intestinal bloating, and diarrhea. Well, that in summation was my holiday season 2016. Somewhere along the line of holiday food grazing, I picked up a stomach parasite that was having a merry time in my belly while the rest of me was trying to feel the Christmas spirit with Jean who came down from the Bay Area. I found myself emerging from urgent care with a bottle of sulfameth antibiotics rather than a mug of holiday grog which only added nausea to my already bah humbug ad nauseam Christmas. The Bactrim was making me sicker so I went back to urgent care and insisted on something else like an anti-parasite. They obliged and within a day I was feeling right as rain!

But too late, Jean came and went before I felt better. The holiday concert we sang with the Tucson Symphony came and went. The Winterhaven party bike came and went. Our mini road trip to the Shady Dell in Bisbee and Kartchner Caverns came and went and all the while I was feeling on the edge of throwing up. Sorry, Jean! I promise to be in good health the next time and it was great to see you and do some fun things in spite of the little critters. Anyway, here’s a visual recap of the last week or so here in our little alcohol-free, anti-parasitic southwestern winter wonderland…

Posted by: facetothewind | December 10, 2016

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Posted by: facetothewind | December 7, 2016

Chuan meets the in-laws

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It happens in every relationship that is to stand the test of time — introducing your love to your blood. Chuan and I did the post-nuptial tour to Fort Myers, Florida — the heart of Trump’s America. It’s the bible belt, sun belt and Sansabelt all rolled into one waddling package. My family, though, is the outlier liberal family, an oasis of sanity and civility in the new pussy-grabbing paradigm of America.

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Each day, Mom and Dad have tea and cookies on their back porch. We discuss all things from their world travels to hemorrhoids to the nightmarish election. Our family has its share of drama, but this time, it was not centered on me. Chuan, as my husband, was welcomed with open arms as their first son-in-law. The contrast of progressive values on their porch to the porches nearby is great. In fact I remember our across the street neighbor, George Kendig, calling black people “porch ponkeys” and “jigaboos.” Something always seemed wrong about him and frankly, this place. Even as a kid I knew it and longed for the day to get out. At 21 I left for New York and never returned.

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Fort Myers is a town as adorable as can be with gorgeous early and mid 20th century architecture. But it’s a place where you simply don’t want to know your neighbors. Such is the setting every time I make the familial pilgrimage to see the ‘rents and the bro. On the plane to Fort Myers we overheard some woman with her hair in bangs (and teased back a few generations) say, “Oh we don’t want us another Clinton. She’s a liar!” What do you say to that? Her little shitsu dog escaped out of her bag and sat under my seat.

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Anyway, it’s a shame that my family is all so rooted in a place so philosophically embattled. As a result we limit our visits to one or two times a year. Tucson by comparison seems a breath of fresh desert air.

I’m very grateful for all that my parents have done to welcome Chuan and embrace him as their own. And for Chuan, it’s a one-sided experience. He won’t get that — I won’t get that — in turn from Malaysia where it’s not just frowned upon, it’s illegal. I’ve already met the outlaws and they don’t embrace me. So we stay rooted in the place, in spite of the ogre-to-be in the Oval Office, in the place that granted us the right to marry.

For now.

Here’s the trip in video and pictures….

 

 

 

Posted by: facetothewind | November 26, 2016

Our Cascabel Thanksgiving and assorted Arizona autumnal activities

It’s that time of year when we are very grateful to have a home base in Arizona. While winter storms begin pummeling the rest of the country, we’re enjoying crisp, cool nights and abundant sunshine during the days. The evening air smells faintly of mesquite fires and the birds songscape changes adding in the winter migratory birds to the music. All our doors are open during the day and cycling is at its best.

We spent Thanksgiving with Erik and Christopher in Cascabel, a small hamlet about 90 minutes from Tucson. They live in a tiny stone house Erik built by himself on a remote piece of land up miles of dirt roads. They live off the grid with solar power and well water providing just enough for themselves. It’s a great place to visit and they’re lovely guys. See the video and pix below…

 

Posted by: facetothewind | November 9, 2016

Return of the Troglodytes

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Election day 2016, started like any other day. I sipped my cardamom tea from my favorite big blue mug I got at Goodwill for $1.50 while performing my usual morning scan of the internet. I entered the keywords Clinton+Trump+polls, checked the headlines on Huffington and New York Times. I found nothing unlike any other day of late — Hillary leading in the polls by a few to several points. I relaxed into my siddhasana yoga position feeling that all was right in the world: my husband is asleep upstairs, his green card is well under way, there’s enough food on the table and Donald Trump is going to suffer a humiliating loss. I savored the idea of watching the tangerine smarmbucket cobble together all the grace he could to deliver a painful concession speech. All would be right in the world and we could go on with our lives. I could turn on NPR again.

The self-absorbed, narcissistic man baby would have been effectively spanked by the voting public. Women could feel that justice was done and the arrogant predator would be publicly neutered and put out to pasture to tend to his gambling fortunes. Latinos would be vindicated. A statement would be made that the highest office in the land should only ever be occupied by someone with dignity and poise.

“Wrong.”

Lean forward into the microphone and say it again:

Chuan and I invited a few friends over to celebrate election evening. We baked some parsnips, made an Indian dal and set out a cheese platter. We even bought a bottle of champagne to toast the first woman president. Thom brought by some Bulleit bourbon and we made Old Fashioneds with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and then we sat down to watch what my dad used to call “the idiot box.” Indeed.

We watched as the electoral map began lighting up in slow motion with the election night brass jingle each time a state was called. Red. Red. Red. Red. Wait, when is there going to be a blue state? I sipped my drink thinking to myself, have faith, she’ll prevail…it’s early yet. This is when it started to seem like we were all falling under some evil spell as a hush came over the room. The smiles tightened to poker faces. We began leaning forward in disbelief. The the nail biting began. Thom excused himself for a cigarette. This was going to be a close race and not the early evening we had expected.

Clinton was clearly in danger and the words “path to victory” and “striking distance” began coming out of the mouths of the correspondents on the TV. Only they weren’t being used with the feminine pronoun. Time started slowing down like it does when something really crushing is about to happen. My body began to get hot and I felt lightheaded. Rob asked me to open the door for some fresh air. I stepped outside to look at the moon hoping that I could snap out of this nightmare and that I would step back inside and Hillary would have taken a couple key battleground states. It didn’t happen.

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The guests began leaving crestfallen as Trump’s numbers climbed dangerously close to winning. Chuan and I sat in the empty living room amid a pile of dirty dishes in sheer disbelief. How could this happen? How could this happen?

You’ve all read the analysis how this could (and did) happen so I don’t need to add my two cents to it. Apathy, blind party loyalty, obsession with celebrity, disillusionment with political elite, latent racism, sexism. It’s all there in one mouthy package with a combover: Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the US.

His election is just one more sign of a nation in decline, an erosion of human values and the ultimate apotheosis of greed, aided and abetted by a dumbed-down, uneducated populace who can’t quite see that a billionaire is the last person they should elect to try to topple the ruling elite. I spent the whole teary day reeling from the shame that half of this country lacks the vision and smarts to have actually elected the very person who will help them dig their own grave. The idiocy is unfathomable.

What about Trump’s barbaric manners borne out in his campaign make us think that he would be a leader with restraint and diplomacy when called to attend to sobering matters such as nuclear war? The real Trump has been scrutinized and revealed for all to see in unruly debates and rally after angry rally. We’ve all seen the child like temper and vindictiveness, the self-absorbed, thin-skinned egomaniac. Who would not be deeply disturbed by the notion of this man being within arm’s reach of the “nuclear football?” Shouldn’t common sense trump party tribalism for that issue alone? It should. But it didn’t. And maybe people think it’s a joke or a far-fetched reality that he could in fact bring on the apocalypse. Well I’m not laughing because he could. And even if he doesn’t use the nuclear arsenal, he certainly intends as a first order to leave tens of millions of people marooned without health care. Is that making America great again?

Now that Chuan and I are married, he could be fast tracked for US citizenship. But he said to me today, “Hubby, I don’t think I really want to apply for citizenship in this country.” There you have it. America’s beacon has gone dim — that someone from a corrupt and broken country like Malaysia would pass up the “opportunity” to become a citizen here. I don’t blame him. Malaysia’s deplorable dictator seems harmless by comparison to Donald Trump with a congress and senate to back him up.

The election of a troglodyte to the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth is a woeful blunder and a low point for the US. The next president of the United States has sent a message to the people that it’s perfectly fine to harass and objectify women and handicapped people, to make racist statements, to lie indiscriminately (well, that’s nothing new to the office), to resort to violence and bullying instead of reason. Oh and let’s not forget that making a general ass of oneself at all times is acceptable behavior and if people don’t like it, hell, you can sue them. I can’t wait to see what sort of mess he will make of international relations.

I hang my head in shame as an American today. I repatriated from Malaysia for this?

Tonight we sat down and began looking at house rentals in Oaxaca, Mexico. Perhaps it’s time to leave again. There’s nothing worse than having a superpower collapse on top of you like a circus tent with the poles kicked out by an elephant.

Well, maybe there is one thing worse: seeing what the Trumps will do with the White House…

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Fasten your seat belts folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride. And remember, he isn’t just deplorable, he’s impeachable.

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